Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

New York State

New York is an eastern state of the U.S., bounded on the north and west by the St. Lawrence Seaway, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie, and at the southern tip, by the Atlantic Ocean. Of its 19,840,000 inhabitants (as reported in 2021), about 1,785,727 (8.8%) are Jews (down from 2,522,000 in 1969).

In 1654, 23 Spanish Portuguese Jews, refugees from the Inquisition, arrived in New Amsterdam (New York after 1664) from Recife, Brazil, and founded the first permanent Jewish settlement in North America. They stayed in part because they had no choice: they were without resources. When Peter Stuyvesant asked the Dutch West Indies Company what to do with the refugees, Jews who were part of the company in Amsterdam were influential enough to provide for them to stay. While the tiny community did not thrive at first, one of its leaders, Asser Levy, by 1658 had real-estate holdings as far north as Albany, and in 1678 Jacob de Lucena was trading in Kingston, up the Hudson River. Successful merchants Luis Gomez and his sons built a trading post on the Hudson near Newburgh in 1717, and in 1732 the Hays family settled near New Rochelle in Westchester. During the French and Indian War, Hayman Levy, a Hanoverian, conducted a large fur trade around Lake Champlain in the north, and Lyon and Manuel Josephson supplied goods to northern British forts. In the 1760s, some Jews settled on Long Island and in Westchester. Until the 19th century, most Jews who settled in the area that became New York State in 1788 were of Spanish-Portuguese origin.

Following the War of 1812, improvements in maritime technology and transportation, particularly the use of steam and the opening of the Erie Canal, combined to intensify Jewish settlement. Aaron Levy, for example, visited the Lake George region from 1805 to 1834. Significant Jewish communities developed in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo between 1820 and the Civil War. During the substantial German Jewish immigration that began during the 1830s, many immigrants settled along the upper transportation routes to the Middle West: Newburgh (1848), Poughkeepsie (1848), Kingston (1853), Hudson (1867), Albany (1838), Schenectady (1840s), Troy (1850s), Amsterdam (1874), Gloversville (1850s), Utica (1848), Syracuse (1839), Rochester (1848), and Buffalo (1847) on the Hudson-Mohawk River route. Other settlements were founded in Binghamton (1885), Elmira (1850), and Olean (1882) along the southern Susquehanna River, Plattsburgh (1861) on Lake Champlain, and Ogdensburg (1865) on the St. Lawrence River.

Isaac M. Wise, the principal architect of Reform Judaism in the United States, served briefly in Albany beginning in 1846. There he established the custom of mixed seating in American synagogues. By 1860, there were 20 congregations in the state and 53 by 1877. These Jews were predominantly merchants and peddlers, while some were farmers. By 1909, there were seven Jewish farmers’ organizations in the state, and the first Jewish farmers’ credit union was formed in 1911.

An estimated 60,000–80,000 Jews lived in the state in 1880. East European immigration increased that number to 900,000 by 1910. By 1928, the number reached 1,835,500. Although most of the East Europeans settled in New York City, others, encouraged to alleviate congestion, went to towns in the north, such as Haverstraw (1896), Ossining (1891), Peekskill (1894), New Rochelle (1880s), Lake Placid (1903), Liberty (1880s), Spring Valley (1901), Yonkers (1860s), Mamaroneck (1890), Massena (1897), Suffern (1880s), and Tarrytown (1887), as well as Ithaca (1891) in the central part of the state. In 1940, 90% of the state’s 2,206,328 (1937 figure) Jews resided in the city. However, the next two decades saw a flow to the suburbs. In 1940, fewer than 100,000 Jews lived in all the New York City suburbs, but Nassau, fueled by returning GIs owning their own homes, had 329,000 Jews by 1956 and 372,000 in 1968; Suffolk, 20,000 by 1956 and 42,000 in 1968 and 90,000 at the turn of the 21st century; and Westchester, 116,900 by 1956 and 131,000 in 1968 (the number has been stable since).

In 1902, Jewish organizations established summer camps for urban Jewish youth, beginning with the Educational Alliance’s Surprise Lake Camp in Cold Spring. And Jews made themselves felt on rural Long Island, too. In 1909, a Jewish dentist, Dr. Henry W. Walden, invented and flew the first American monoplane from Mineola Airport. One Long Island company, the Elberson Rubber Factory in Setauket, had so many Jews on its payroll that it had to close for the High Holidays, even though the owners weren’t Jewish. The Baron de Hirsh Jewish Agricultural Society operated a training farm in Kings Park and farm communities in Center Moriches, Riverhead, Calverton, East Islip, and Farmingdale. Turn-of-the-century Centerport was the home of a camp for boys and young men operated by the 92nd Street Y. It advertised “the finest in kosher cuisine.”

Relief from the summer heat, sweatshops, and squalor led to the development of the “Borscht Belt” in Sullivan, Ulster, and Orange counties. Some left the Lower East Side and bought small farms. But farming was not their forte, and soon the farms became boarding houses, then inns and bungalow colonies for visitors from the city. The guests insisted on entertainment, and by the 1920s, that became a major undertaking. Waiters and busboys doubled as comics and entertainers, or tummlers, while the social directors became impresarios. Among the social directors were Moss Hart, the future playwright, and Don Hartman, who became head of Paramount Pictures. The tummlers included David Daniel Kaminsky, Aaron Chwatt, Jacob Pincus Perelmuth, Morris Miller, Eugene Klass, Joseph Levitch, Milton Berlinger, Joseph Gottlieb, and Murray Janofsky, later to become well-known as Danny Kaye, Red Buttons, Jan Peerce, Robert Merrill, Gene Barry, Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle, Joey Bishop, and Jan Murray.

The queen of the mountains was Jennie Grossinger, who became the region’s best-known hostess and her namesake hotel the most imitated. One of the imitators was Arthur Winarick, the bald manufacturer of Jeris hair tonic and the owner of the Concord Hotel, who constantly tried to one-up Grossinger’s. In later years, television, jet travel, and increased competition proved serious threats to the region, and Grossinger’s was sold in 1985 for conversion to condominiums and ski houses. Dozens of hotels closed or became retreats for religious cultists.

For 100 years, beginning at the end of the 19th century, Jewish life had a presence in the area. Synagogues were constructed in almost every hamlet. By 1999, 15 remained. Seven of them were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They were: Agudas Achim, Livingston Manor; B’nai Israel, Woodbourne; Anshei Glen Wild, Glen Wild; Bikur Cholim B’nai Yisroel, Swan Lake; Chevra Ahavath Zion, Monticello; Tifereth Israel Anshei, Parksville; and the Jewish Community Center of White Sulphur Springs. Sharon Springs developed as a high-end Jewish refuge. After World War II, Sharon Springs got a second wind from the West German government, which paid medical care reparations to Holocaust survivors, holding that therapeutic spa vacations were a legitimate part of the medical package. Many hotel guests had tattoos on their arms.

Politically, the roster of New York Jews who served in Congress began in the 19th century and included Edwin Einstein (1879–81); Joseph Pulitzer (1883–85); Isidor Straus (1894–95); Israel Frederick Fischer (1894–95); Lucius N. Littauer (1897–1907); Mitchell May (1899–1901); and Jefferson M. Levy (1899–1901; 1911–15). In the 20th century, Herbert Tenzer (1965–69) was the first Orthodox Jew in Congress; Allard K. Lowenstein (1869–71), a leader of the anti-war movement, won election from Long Island, and Gary L. Ackerman (1983–2013), representing Queens and Long Island, was host in his office to minḥah prayers each afternoon at the Capitol. Others who represented the state in the House were Eliot Engel (1989-2021), Nita Lowey (1989-2021), Jerrold Nadler (1992- ), David A. Levy (1993-1995), Anthony Weiner (1999-2011), Steve Israel (2001-2017), Nan Hayworth (2011-2013), Lee Zeldin (2015-2023), Max Rose (2019-2023), and Daniel Goldman (2023- )

Herbert H. Lehman was governor from 1933 to 1942 and U.S. senator from 1949 to 1957. Jacob K. Javits served as U.S. senator from 1957 to 1981. Charles Schumer first served as a congressman and later as a senator beginning in 1998. Benjamin N. Cardozo (1927–32), Irving Lehman (1940–45), and Stanley H. Fuld (1966-73) were chief justices of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest bench. Pressure from Jewish members of the State Legislature led to the passage of the Fair Employment Practice Act in 1945, the first in the U.S. to prohibit discrimination in employment practices.

Jewish newspapers were published in Buffalo (since 1918), Rochester (1924), Westchester (1942), Long Island (1944), and Schenectady (1965).

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in 2023 the state’s first Anti-Hate in Education Center and Annual Convening and the distribution of $500,000 to community organizations to fight anti-Semitism and hate, and $38 million to nonprofit organizations that face an increased risk of hate crimes. “As governor of the state with the largest Jewish population outside the State of Israel, I feel a solemn responsibility to protect and uplift New York’s vibrant, diverse Jewish communities,” Hochul said. “No one should have to fear for their safety while going to their place of work, going to school or just walking the streets. It has always been my top priority to keep the people of New York safe, and we will continue taking action to fight antisemitism and use every tool at our disposal to eliminate hate and bias from our communities.”

Hochul also announced that the State Division of Human Rights will improve its data collection of hate crimes and the state’s Office of Victim Services will simplify its victim compensation application. The New York State Police will also have a unit focused on hate crimes.


AJYB, (1938–39, 1970); C.M. Horowitz and L.J. Kaplan, The Estimated Jewish Population of the New York Area, 19001975; J.R. Marcus, Early American Jewry, 1 (1961), 24–101; U.Z. Engleman, in: JSOS, 9 (April 1947), 127–74. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: L.S. Maisel and I.N. Forman, Jews in American Politics (2001).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Haley Cohen, N.Y. Gov. Hochul announces new state actions to combat antisemitism, JewishInsider, (September 20, 2023).